F1 opener in Australia postponed in wake of McLaren withdrawing

Formula One's season-opening Australian Grand has been postponed in the wake of British team McLaren withdrawing from the event after a team member tested positive for coronavirus, the PA news agency understands.

The decision was taken following a crisis two-hour summit involving F1's under-fire hierarchy, its governing body, the FIA, and a number of the sport's team principals here in Melbourne.

F1's move follows the tide of the sporting world after a series of events were cancelled or delayed on Thursday in response to the deadly disease which has claimed more than 4,600 lives.

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IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR MCLAREN - McLaren drivers Lando Norris, left, and Carlos Sainz, sit either side of McLaren's new 2020 Formula 1 car, the MCL35, unveiled at the McLaren Technology Centre on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Woking, United Kingdom. Press release and full launch media assets available to download at http://www.apmultimedianewsroom.com/multimedia-newsroom/mclaren-reveals-the-mcl35-to-the-world. (Zak Mauger/McLaren via AP Images)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR MCLAREN - McLaren unveils its 2020 Formula 1 car, the MCL35, at the McLaren Technology Centre on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in Woking, United Kingdom. Press release and full launch media assets available to download at http://www.apmultimedianewsroom.com/multimedia-newsroom/mclaren-reveals-the-mcl35-to-the-world. (Zak Mauger/McLaren via AP Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 11 2020: Renault F1 Team livery launch with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon before the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix- PHOTOGRAPH BY Chris Putnam / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 11 2020: Renault F1 Team livery launch with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon before the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix- PHOTOGRAPH BY Chris Putnam / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10 2020: Renault F1 Team livery launch with Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon before the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix- PHOTOGRAPH BY Chris Putnam / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 19: Robert Kubica, Tatiana Calderon, Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Alfa Romeo Racing and Antonio Giovinazzi of Italy and Alfa Romeo Racing unveil the new car during day one of Formula 1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 19, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Alonso/MB Media/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 19: Alfa Romeo Racing unveil their car during day one of Formula 1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 19, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Alonso/MB Media/Getty Images)
Haas French driver Romain Grosjean (R) and Haas Danish driver Kevin Magnussen unveil the VF-20 Formula One car at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo in the outskirts of Barcelona on February 19, 2020, ahead of the tests for the new Formula One Grand Prix season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 14: General Manager Motorsport Division Honda Hiroshi Shimizu, Operating Officer Honda F1 Katsuhide Moriyama, Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia AlphaTauri, Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko, Pierre Gasly of France and Scuderia AlphaTauri, Scuderia AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost and Masashi Yamamoto of Honda pose for a photograph during the Scuderia AlphaTauri AT01 Livery launch on February 14, 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 14: A general view during the Scuderia AlphaTauri launch event at Hangar 7 on February 14, 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Gisela Schober/Getty Images for AlphaTauri)
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 14: The 2020 F1 car "AT01" is on display during the Scuderia AlphaTauri launch event at Hangar 7 on February 14, 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for AlphaTauri)
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 14: General view as the Car is revealed during the Scuderia AlphaTauri AT01 Livery launch on February 14, 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
SALZBURG, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 14: General view as the Car is revealed during the Scuderia AlphaTauri AT01 Livery launch on February 14, 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB16 during the Red Bull Racing RB16 launch at Silverstone Circuit on February 12, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
The driver's cockpit is pictured of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's race car during an event to unveil the team's livery for the 2020 season, during a press event at the Royal Automobile Club in London on February 10, 2020. - Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff said on Monday that his team's tie-up with Lewis Hamilton is the "obvious pairing", with the future of the six-time world champion still unclear on the eve of the new season. "It is the obvious pairing going forward," said Wolff as Mercedes unveiled a five-year partnership with Jim Ratcliffe's chemicals company Ineos in London. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB16 leaves the garage during the Red Bull Racing RB16 launch at Silverstone Circuit on February 12, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12, 2020 - Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow practicing pit stops before the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix- PHOTOGRAPH BY Chris Putnam / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
16 LECLERC Charles (mco), Scuderia Ferrari SF1000, action during the Formula 1 Winter Tests at Circuit de Barcelona - Catalunya on February 28, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
CIRCUIT DE CATALUNYA, MONTMELO, SPAIN - 2020/02/28: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF1000 on track during day six of F1 Winter Testing. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton had earlier heaped pressure on the sport's bosses by claiming they were putting lives at danger with 300,000 fans expected through the gates of Albert Park over the next few days.

A British mechanic was told he had tested positive for the coronavirus at 9pm. A little more than an hour later, his McLaren team informed F1 and the FIA that they were pulling the plug on their participation here this weekend.

The individual remains in quarantine at the team's hotel in Melbourne. It is understood that at least a dozen other McLaren staff are in self-isolation after coming into contact with the individual who arrived from England earlier this week. They are showing no symptoms related to the disease.

In all, nine people connected with the sport – none of whom are from Hamilton's Mercedes team – have been tested for the virus, seven of which have been negative, one positive, and one still awaiting their results.

"McLaren Racing has confirmed this evening in Melbourne that it has withdrawn from the 2020 Formula One Australian Grand Prix, following the positive test of a team member for the coronavirus," a statement from the British team read.

"The team member was tested and self-isolated as soon as they started to show symptoms and will now be treated by local healthcare authorities.

"The team has prepared for this eventuality and has ongoing support in place for its employee who will now enter a period of quarantine."

McLaren will now take direction from the local authorities regarding their next steps.

Earlier on Thursday, six-time world champion Hamilton attacked F1's decision to stage the Melbourne race.

"I am really very, very surprised that we are here," he said during the official press conference to preview Sunday's event. "For me, it is shocking that we are sitting in this room.

"It seems like the rest of the world is reacting, probably a little bit late, but we have seen [US president] Donald Trump shut down the borders from Europe to the US, the NBA has been suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on."

Asked why he thought the sport's chiefs and its governing body, the FIA, had pushed ahead with the event, Hamilton, 35, said: "Cash is king. I don't feel like I should shy away from my opinion.

"The fact is we are here and I just urge everyone to be as careful as you can be in terms of touching doors and surfaces. For the fans, I hope they take precautions, too.

"I was walking through the paddock and saw everything going ahead as normal as if it is a normal day, but I really don't think it is. I saw Sir Jackie Stewart in the lift this morning looking fit, healthy and well, and other elderly people, too. I hope the fans stay safe and we don't see any fatalities or anything come out in the future."

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, a director for the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, said that the grid could refuse to race if it was confirmed a team member had been infected.

"If it was to go that far, for sure you pull the handbrake [on the race]," said Vettel, 32.

"We are a group of 20 guys and we got together over the years in various circumstances and I think we share common opinion on big decisions and that would be a very, very big decision.

"We would be mature enough to look after ourselves and pull the handbrake in that case."

Next weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, which was already set to be staged behind closed doors, now looks unlikely to take place, while the inaugural race in Vietnam, scheduled for April 5, is also under major threat. Following the postponement of the Chinese Grand Prix, the season could now start in Holland on May 3, but that is also subject to change.

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